The ‘first annual’ LA Bicycle Summit as it was sometimes referred to at the LA County Bicycle Summit held on Friday, September 30, 2011 in Long Beach, CA was an exhilarating event from start to finish – that is, if one had the opportunity to be there all day. Disclosure: the author was only able to attend until lunchtime due to existing commitments.
Opening the day were folks like Jennifer Klausner of the LA County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC, Executive Director); Bob Foster (Mayor, LBC); Suzanne Bogert (RENEW LA County, Director); and Andy Clarke (League of American Bicyclists, President). Notable was the sense of optimism and exuberance – and not of the irrational variety opined by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan during the heyday of the 00’s and the stock and housing market’s wild upward swings. Rather, of the grounded variety of exuberance that recognizes that the data is in: whether in economics, health and health care, fuel and urban transport efficiency and infrastructure cost savings, or the safety associated with bicycling; bicycling is a sustainable and meaningful constituent part of the transportation infrastructure, especially in a place such as Los Angeles with flat terrain and excellent year-around weather.
One of the big announcements before the official program started inside of the LBC Convention Center: Andy Clarke announced that in September 2012 LBC would be hosting the annual Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012 event on September 12-13, 2012 (Mark Plotz, bike-walk). This is an important opportunity for Southern California and dovetails with much of the current momentum.
Once inside, the opening panel featured the inspiring speakers Andy Clarke (President) of the League of American Bicyclists, James F. Sallis, director of the San Diego State University’s Active Living Research Program, and Dr. Suja Lowenthal, Vice Mayor of LBC.
Andy Clarke discussed the trends that seem to suggest a significant increase in obesity in the US that matches the Dutch experience: increased car use is directly proportional to increased obesity and diabetes, and inversely proportional to cycling. What is more, 40% of trips are two miles or less, suggesting that 40% of car trips could be reduced or eliminated entirely by using the bicycle. Dr. Sallis took this health-related focus further by reiterating the studies by John Pucher of Rutgers University who concludes that most people enjoy bicycling IF they are not scared of traffic. He also spoke of New York City’s 262% cycling increase over the past decade, and the research by Anne C. Lusk who studied bicyclists by connecting a GPS device to their commutes. Her research helped identify the need for segregated bicycle lanes based on female rider preferences to be completely separated or segregated from car traffic.
Finally, in the first session, Dr. Suja Lowenthal, vice mayor of LBC gave an excellent presentation on what all LBC has done to get to where they are – mentioning the mayor and folks like Charlie Gandy who was in the next panel session. Lowenthal, a USC graduate, discussed the need for an authentic engagement of bicycling and the importance of making it accesible to all cyclists, including ones who sought shorter trips and who sometimes might wish to wear business attire or other fashions – not only the spandex gear preferred by many long-distance, speed cyclists. She likened cycling to the book The Earth Knows My Name by Patricia Kleindienst (2007) which focuses on the history of gardening and the role of ethnic groups; botany, and the idea that the earth knows you in a profound sense.
Lowenthal connected this to her homeland India, as well as the use of bicycling, adding a global dimension to what clearly is a global phenomena with LA as its champion and manifesting in the Summit’s apparent magic, a desirable harbinger of the local-global connection that is bicycling and transportation. Lowenthal therefore asks the question: “Who’s streets are these?” and answers that the bicycle is the great equalizer and a metaphor for our changing urbanscape. The author notes that this does appear to be the case in much of LA as youth embraces a DIY (do-it-yourself) culture around the identity and pride-of-ownership of the bicycle – a tool that moves you with honor and dignity. So yes – an equalizer.
The next session was equally exciting and was moderated by Jean Armbruster, director of the Los Angeles PLACE Program. Jean Armbruster began with some inspiring words and data that point to the economics of the bicycle’s important impact and laid out some of the basic data that demonstrates the connection between health, health costs, and exercise such as through bicycling, notably the studies by Finkelstein 2007 that obesity represents 10% of medical spending. Following was Charlie Gandy of LBC who gave a no-nonsense ribald discussion of why and how LBC made happen their successful conversion to bicycling in such a short time frame; and Daryl Grigsby (Public Works Director) of the City of Pomona who actually rode from Pomona on the bicycle path connecting the two locations discussed his first 19 months from Seattle, WA as Pomona’s more or less bicycle transportation catalyst with some great examples of what it takes – community engagement, rides, buy in, promotion, walking the talk – etc. Finally, Laura Friedman of the City of Glendale gave an inspiring, down-to-earth, very humorous presentation about how her city is changing as a result of concerns regarding the safety or lack of safety associated with cars and the impact on pedestrians. Combined, these speakers hit all of the major points when it comes to bicycling – from what the data tells us to how to feasibly integrate bicycling into the public agenda and dialog. They made it look a lot easier than probably really is.
Throughout the day there were heros of the new cycling revolution everywhere: Dan Dabek director of C.I.C.L.E.; representatives from CicLAvia (Joe Linton, Jonathan Parfrey, Bobby Gadda); Lynn Goldsmith of LA Metro; Jessica Meaney of Safe Routes to School National Partnership; and Lucy Dyke of Santa Monica to name but a few. Indeed, the program will hopefully be available soon and will be posted here.
One of the more compelling sessions that the author was unable to attend was titled “Using Collision Data; New Mapping Tools for Supporting Infrastructure Investments” led by Swati Pande and John Bigham of UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center. SafeTREC and Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS) appear to be excellent research resources and the author is examining these more closely in the context of efforts at the Annenberg Innovation Lab to create storytelling, geolocative, and data collection systems relating to bicycling as a form of transport and as a communication medium.
The event – although only attended in the morning – was a monumental historic experience that represents the culmination of many years in the making. It does appear that a major shift is happening in Los Angeles that may change everything. If Portland and Minneapolis can do it – why can’t LA? There is no reason why it can’t – that’s the answer.
An example of the heroes of LA who are transforming the urbanscape – Charlie Gandy of Long Beach discussing ‘charismatic communities’ at TEDx – soon to be featured on TED: